From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Committee on Review Launches Massive Fact-finding Effort
04 May 1996 20:55:55
95424 Committee on Review Launches Massive Fact-finding Effort
by Jerry L. Van Marter
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--An unprecedented number of Presbyterians will be invited
to share their opinions about the state of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
as the quadrennial Committee on Review of General Assembly entities (CR)
gathers data for its evaluation of the denomination's national
Plans laid out by the committee for what CR chair Jay Poppinga calls
the "fact-gathering phase" of its work indicate that more than 3,000
persons will be sent written questionnaires and at least 100 others will be
interviewed by members of the committee.
The 10-page questionnaire, developed by a CR subcommittee in
conjunction with the Research Services office in the Congregational
Ministries Division, will soon be sent to all presbytery and synod
executives, all members of presbytery and synod councils and a random
sampling of 600 elders in congregations throughout the denomination.
The questionnaire seeks to measure the level of familiarity and
understanding with the General Assembly structure and functions by
Presbyterians in other governing bodies and their level of contact with the
Assembly and its national staff.
The questionnaire also asks respondents to identify the main sources
they rely on for information about the denomination, their level of concern
about actions of the General Assembly and its entities and their views on
how lower governing bodies should be represented at the Assembly level.
A second questionnaire will be sent to selected national staff members
and elected persons serving on Assembly-level committees.
The extensive data-gathering seems designed to address directly the
extent of discontent with the national church organization (see "NEWS
BRIEFS," Oct. 27, 1995, #95385) and whether the CR will delve very
extensively into it.
"My hearing is that there is some fear of this committee and the power
some perceive we have and the questions we may ask," said Betty Moore, CR
representative from the Synod of South Atlantic. "This suggests that some
may feel too vulnerable to share openly with us," she added, saying she
hopes the anonymous and confidential questionnaires will overcome any
The Rev. Zane Buxton, Office of the General Assembly staff to the
committee, reported that staff members of the National Ministries Division
expressed in a meeting he attended "concern that the Review Committee will
only talk to directors -- people want to know how to get [their input] into
the process and need to be asked."
Staff morale added to concerns to be addressed
The Rev. Corina Chavez, CR representative from the Synod of the
Southwest, said, "Everyone we have talked to [at the Presbyterian Center in
Louisville] has expressed morale concerns." Her view was echoed by several
Alan Landes from the Synod of the Rocky Mountains, noted an employee
survey conducted a year ago that he said "indicated a very low level of
employee morale and lack of confidence in senior management." Landes
described the survey as "intriguing."
Buxton pointed out that the survey was taken "shortly after downsizing
and Re-imagining." Moore responded, "That makes it even more important to
determine whether morale has improved since then, and if not, why not."
General Assembly Council (GAC) associate director for operations the Rev.
Frank Diaz said results of follow-up actions taken last spring after the
survey findings were published are now being compiled.
The committee docketed the issue of employee morale for its Dec. 14-16
meeting here and asked Diaz to furnish it with the follow-up information.
Ministry divisions, CAS and OGA share their work
Following up on a broad overview of the GAC's work presented to the
committee at its last meeting by GAC executive director the Rev. James D.
Brown and GAC chair the Rev. D. William McIvor, the CR spent a sizable
portion of this meeting hearing firsthand about the work of the GAC's three
ministry divisions and Corporate and Administrative Services (CAS) office.
Brown introduced the presentations by describing the mood in
Louisville as "an intense time of soul-searching, reflecting deeply about
the nature of our work." Amid the problems, he once again, as he did at
the last meeting, lifted up the "Year With Africa" and the "Volunteers in
Shared Ministry" initiatives as examples of "an exciting new level of
participation" by Presbyterians throughout the church in the denomination's
Eugene McKelvey, a Houston physician who serves on the Worldwide
Ministries Division (WMD) committee, described the division's work as "a
comprehensive mission program." He said, "These are exciting times in
which we must maintain conventional missions but also adapt to changing
circumstances and new opportunities." WMD director the Rev. Clifton
Kirkpatrick then outlined some of the division's cutting-edge programs in
places like the former Soviet Union, Bosnia, China and Africa.
Lynn Jostes, a Christian educator in Sarasota, Fla., who serves on the
Congregational Ministries Division (CMD) committee, said the division "is
my main resource and source of support for all I do in my local church."
She said she "believes the current vision of the General Assembly focuses
on congregations -- the soul of our church." The work of the division was
outlined by CMD director the Rev. Eunice Poethig, who said Presbyterian
polity defines "the mission of congregations as not just to serve their own
folk, but to connect them with other congregations and the whole church."
The work of the National Ministries Division (NMD) was described by
NMD director the Rev. Curtis Kearns and NMD committee chair DeAun West of
Rapid City, S.D. West, who has been a member of the same congregation for
51 years, said she was "interested to find that I became one of those who
is out of touch' because I am now on the GAC." She said she "takes it as
a challenge to be an interpreter of the GAC's work," which she described as
a "real team effort."
CAS's work, which includes financial and accounting services, legal
services, property and human resources management, distribution services
and information services (computer systems), was described by CAS chair
Duane Black of Yucaipa, Calif., and CAS director G.A. "Pat" Goff. They
outlined the complex mix of funding sources that contribute to the General
Assembly's $110 million-plus budget and current budget trends.
The committee also heard from General Assembly stated clerk the Rev.
James E. Andrews and Office of the General Assembly (OGA) director for
constitutional services the Rev. C. Fred Jenkins.
Andrews told the CR that he has been surprised to find that "the
decline of membership and giving in the Presbyterian Church is ordinary,
not unique." He said such decline in the church is paralleled by virtually
every volunteer organization in the country and that it "signals a decline
of civic society in the United States."
If such a general decline is taking place in the entire society, he
continued, "then the approach of the church is somewhere between unworkable
and inappropriate." He urged CR members to read the Lilly-funded study
"The Presbyterian Presence," edited by Louisville Presbyterian Theological
Seminary faculty members John Mulder ( the seminary's president), Milton J
Coalter and Louis B. Weeks (now president of Union Theological Seminary in
Asked for signs of hope, Andrews cited three "keys" to the
Presbyterian Church's recovery:
responsiveness to "constituents" as a whole rather than separate
approaches to different "constituency groups"
the ability to be "adaptive and innovative to a society in which
there will soon be no majority group ... the first church that becomes
truly multicultural will dominate the religious landscape in the 21st
what the church contributes to the renewal of the public education
system in the U.S. -- "it was ours to begin with, after all, and is
central to the transmission of values in a society."
For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
phone 502-569-5504 fax 502-569-8073
E-mail PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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